Acquisitions, Standards, Blockchain, And More

This is the longest I have gone without posting in many years. It has been a busy week around the Manufacturing Connection office, though. I have been assigning soccer officials to games for 33 years. There were more schedule changes, injuries, and dropped games than any previous year. Not to mention several cases of Covid taking referees out for up to three weeks. Today is the last day of my season, so it’s back to normal. Further sign of back to normal comes from using my United and Marriott apps to book a trip to Houston for Rockwell Automation’s Automation Fair. I will be down there November 9-11. If you’re there, ping me. Perhaps we can meet for a coffee or something and some conversation.

Naturally, much news accumulated. Following are some snippets of information. I will follow up with more detailed essays next week.

Schneider Electric Innovation Summit

Schneider Electric held a world-wide Innovation Summit in October. The company’s overall focus seems to be electrical power. But it has a significant automation portfolio. The Summit theme was Powering The Digital Economy and CEO Jean-Pascal Tricoire discussed the many benefits of digitalization. Spokespeople discussed four new offers.

Under the broad theme of Efficiency Chief Marketing Officer Chris Leong discussed  Automation Expert. This universal automation solution actually launched last year. It “breaks dependency of hardware and software” with its virtualized controller. Leong noted that the IT world has recognized this architecture for years; it is time for the operations world to adopt.

Under the broad theme of Resiliency, she introduced SmartUPS the Ultra 5Kw. It comes in a 2u form factor with a lighter weight than previous models.

With the broad theme of Sustainability, Leong introduced RM Air Set Medium voltage switches. These gas insulated switches are insulated with pure air and include a small footprint. Also introduced were solutions for electric vehicles. EcoStruxure for emobility includes electric vehicle charger system called pro charger. Also included are Charging Expert that varies charging depending upon time and energy usage, EV Advisor, a cloud based monitor and control of a fleet of chargers.

Emerson Acquires AspenTech, Sort Of

Emerson and AspenTech announced that the companies have entered into a definitive agreement to contribute Emerson’s industrial software businesses – OSI Inc. and the Geological Simulation Software business – to AspenTech creating a new company called New AspenTech.  

The transaction accelerates Emerson’s software investment strategy as the company continues to build a higher growth, more diversified and sustainable portfolio, by creating an industrial software company with immediate scale and relevancy. Emerson expects the usual synergies (which realistically never materialize) and flexibility to strategically deploy capital for growth. Software businesses have different financials than hardware ones, and this financial structure may help Emerson in the way a similar financial structure has helped Schneider Electric with AVEVA. New AspenTech will be fully consolidated into Emerson financials and is expected to be accretive to adjusted EPS after year one.

Time Sensitive Networking

Things have been quiet in the Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) area for some time. So, it is refreshing to see the results of some activity. Avnu Alliance announced globally-scaled testing capabilities and a comprehensive update of its certification testing procedures at newly authorized, commercial test houses around the world. This advanced global certification program will streamline certification testing of devices with Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) capabilities, including devices implementing the Milan network protocol (using TSN) for professional media, making testing easier and more convenient for Avnu members around the world. 

Blockchain–A New Look

Blockchain has been highly touted as a useful technology for tracking transactions, supply chain, and even IoT. It failed to live up to expectations. In October, I talked with David Iseminger Founder and CEO, Upheaval LLC and developer of Ironweave blockchain. This new technology holds promise for fulfilling blockchain application in manufacturing. This new blockchain technology was built to scale ensuring business continuity, efficient collaboration, and meeting regulatory compliance with automated data creation. Its strength lies in technology that its data is immutable, locked by multiple hashes in each block. It allows millions of interactions per second, and it requires no risky or volatile coins. Finally, each block is independently encrypted with unique keys, it is immune to ransomware, its multiple backups are immediate and automatic, and it allows blocks of any size, any data from small IoT updates to medical images.

Dell Technologies at the Edge

And a few bullet points from Dell Technologies I have lifted from a press release. I once talked with Dell people when they developed the Edge Gateway and had an IoT group. That group has long since dispersed. Everyone I knew is gone except for two who moved into other groups. But, the company still provide some products at the edge.

  • Dell EMC VxRail satellite nodes extend automation and lifecycle management capabilities to smallest configuration to date for edge workloads 
  • Dell Technologies Validated Design for Manufacturing Edge with Litmus helps manufacturers make quick decisions to improve quality and reduce costs 
  • Dell EMC Edge Gateway connects multiple edge devices across operational technology and IT environments to deliver real-time data insights 
  • Dell EMC Streaming Data Platform optimizes GPUs to ingest streaming video and supports real-time analytics on Dell EMC VxRail and PowerEdge systems 
  • Dell Latitude Rugged laptops can withstand harsh edge environments while maintaining high levels of performance and connectivity 

NI Appoints Thomas Benjamin as Chief Technology Officer

NI (formerly National Instruments) has been making some intriguing moves in the last year or so under CEO Eric Starkloff. I wrote recently about Software as a Service and other “as-a-Service” business models. And more recently how HPE is continuing to pivot from primarily a hardware supplier to serious software and as-a-Service model. And a recent post discussed some radical moves at Rockwell Automation in these same software lines. So, NI is rapidly building out a new business model. Which is good. I wondered how they’d grow a business out of (admittedly excellent) hardware. Pay attention to what is happening here. 

NI’s release points out that this news, “Underscores company vision to connect test data through software to optimize product development lifecycle.”

NI announced October 6 the appointment of Thomas Benjamin as Executive Vice President, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Head of Product Analytics. Thomas will lead NI’s development of software-driven business models essential to the test and measurement market, while driving disruptive technology innovation. The CTO role will be pivotal in driving new and long-term growth opportunities for the company, including new areas tied to data, product analytics, and enterprise software. 

Additionally, the company announced the promotion of Scott Rust, an experienced NI leader, to the role of Executive Vice President, Platform & Products. In this role, he will lead NI’s global development teams responsible for building the products required to meet customer needs and the platform capabilities to create differentiation and leverage across NI’s business. 

“Thomas joins a strong team of NI leaders and will accelerate our ability to use software, data, and new business models to drive growth across our business,” said Eric Starkloff, NI CEO. “The combination of Thomas’ external experience and software knowledge with Scott’s deep understanding of NI’s platform and customers will enable us to reach an even higher degree of customer and business success.”

Thomas comes to NI with extensive experience building software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud native solutions powered by APIs, data, and insights. Most recently he was the CTO and SVP of Technology at SAP Ariba. His career has also included CTO and VP roles at General Electric and Emirates Group, and technology leadership roles at Visa, Walmart, and Oracle.

“NI’s position as a leader in automated test and measurement software and hardware is an excellent match for my track record of implementing robust business models based on a strong technology foundation,” said Thomas Benjamin, NI CTO. “I’m passionate about providing value to customers through the right blend of people, process, innovation and products, and I’m confident that the talent at NI enables limitless possibilities to change how we engineer the future.”

At NI, we bring together the people, ideas and technology so forward thinkers and creative problem solvers can take on humanity’s biggest challenges. From data and automation to research and validation, we provide the tailored, software-connected systems engineers and enterprises need to Engineer Ambitiously™ every day.

35th International Maintenance Conference and Reliability Digital Transformation Conference

Now that I’ve attended one in-person trade show and conference, I’m ready for a few more. I met Terrence O’Hanlon almost 20 years ago at a conference he assembled in Chicago at Rosemont. It was impressive for a small-ish magazine called Maintenance Technology. I didn’t know that I had met the real Terry, though. That came later after my brush with trying to revitalize that magazine and conference.

Since that time, O’Hanlon has brought together an association, website, magazine, and some awesome conferences. His annual large one is coming up in December at Marco Island in Florida. I keep threatening him with coming down and attending. This may be the year. My interests intersect with his in a Venn Diagram sort of way. I’m interested in exploring how IT technologies intersect with industrial technologies in order to improve operations and profitability solving tough problems in production and manufacturing.

If you are coming down, and you should, ping me and let’s meet for a coffee or other adult beverage while discussing the changes impacting us and how we’ll solve tomorrow’s problems.

Following is information about the two conferences held concurrently.

35th International Maintenance Conference

The 35th International Maintenance Conference (IMC) provides a fresh, positive community-based curated experience to gain knowledge and perspective for advancing reliability and asset management through people, their managers, the processes, the data and the technology.

Using examples from the world’s best-run companies and leaders who provide a new view of maintenance, reliability and asset management that results in attendees discovering new ways to advance their organizations that had not occurred to them in the past. 

It is about learning how to knock on the door of the “don’t know what we don’t know” knowledge domain and being open to important ideas from others with a mindset of inquiry and discovery.

Mission: Providing opportunities for attendees to discover ways to advance safety, sustainability and success in the workplace aligned to organization objects and aims.

Vision: Connect the people, the knowledge, the technology and the experience of the International Maintenance Conference community and nurture that learning opportunity 365 days per year.

Foundation

Much of the context, structure and ideas for the International Maintenance Conference is based on the Uptime Elements Reliability Framework and Asset Management System which is in use at over 6,000 organizations with more than 3,700 active Certified Reliability Leaders and practitioners.

WHO PARTICIPATES IN IMC?

Asset Managers, Reliability Leaders, Maintenance Professionals and Operational Managers from the world’s best-run companies.

Attendees are invited to set a goal to create an activated asset management strategy and plan to be executed in an engaged, cross-functional, culture of reliability [leadership] based on what you learn and who you meet at IMC.

The RELIABILITY 4.0 Digital Transformation Conference

The world’s best run companies are connecting the workforce, management, assets and data to automate asset knowledge that can be leveraged for huge and beneficial decisions.

According to a 2021 Reliabilityweb.com Digitalization Study for Asset Management and Reliability, less than 40 percent of organizations have a formal policy, strategy or plan for digital transformation in the context of reliability and asset management. When combined with data that shows that 70 percent of digitalization projects fail to generate sustainable business success when missing a formal policy, strategy and plan, the RELIABILITY 4.0 Digital Transformation Conference exists to amply digitalization success.

Using examples from the world’s best-run companies and leaders who provide a new view for leveraging technology to connect asset data, information and knowledge with the workforce and their managers to make better maintenance, reliability and asset management decisions for a better operation tomorrow.

It is about being open to new ideas with a mindset of inquiry and discovery.

Mission: Providing opportunities for attendees to discover ways to enhance reliability and asset management opportunities by creating new digital business models built on elastic, evergreen connected data environments, digital twins and metaverses in new ways that had not occurred to them in the past. 

Vision: Connect the people, the knowledge, the technology, and the experience of the RELIABILITY 4.0 Digital Transformation Conference and nurture that competency development opportunity 365 days per year.

Foundation

Much of the context, structure, and ideas for the RELIABILITY 4.0 Digital Transformation Conference is based on Uptime Elements IT/OT Knowledge Domain and Digitalization Framework, originally created through a virtual Special Interest Group (vSIG). There is a revised body of knowledge currently being created by the Reliability Leadership Foundation (RLF) Digitalization Consortium, who will be actively involved in contributing to the RELIABILITY 4.0 Digital Transformation Conference.

WHO PARTICIPATES IN THE RELIABILITY 4.0 DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION CONFERENCE?

Professionals who collaborate across operational technology [OT], information technology [IT] and engineering technology [ET] from the world’s best-run companies to advance reliability and asset management.

RELIABILITY 4.0 Digital Transformation Conference attendees are invited to set a target to create the foundation of an activated asset management strategy and plan executed in an engaged, cross-functional, culture of reliability [leadership] enabled by digitalization business models based on what you learn and who you meet at RELIABILITY 4.0 Digital Transformation Conference.

Global manufacturing industry output to hit $41.9 Tn in 2021, up from $39.3 Tn in 2020

It’s the end of a quarter, and I’m flooded with manufacturing market reports. One set of reports I look forward originates from England and Interact Analysis. Below I’ve summarized three recent reports—a market report and two insights from CEO Adrian Lloyd. I have talked with Lloyd about methodology—something I’m sort of anal about. I don’t detect the usual sloppy thinking in the way they go about compiling data.

Global Manufacturing Industry Output Tracker

  • Manufacturing output set for slow 2021 recovery, after unexpectedly small 2020 contraction 
  • Freight shipping costs increased 5-fold over the past year 
  • Semiconductor and electronics machinery market grew 8% during 2020 

The research shows that recovery in 2021 will be muted, following a far smaller contraction in 2020 than had initially been predicted. Meanwhile, the ongoing semiconductor shortage, coupled with the continued spread of the delta variant, rising freight costs, and growing worker shortages; will create ongoing problems for all manufacturers.  

The semiconductor shortage can be attributed to several factors, but the biggest impact comes from the automotive industry. As automotive manufacturers scaled back production in preparation for an expected collapse in demand for vehicles, they reduced their orders for microchips. But the automotive slow-down was not as severe as had been feared, leaving vehicle factories unable to meet demand because their stocks of semiconductors were depleted. Demand for semiconductors then boomed as car factories suddenly ramped up orders, and now Interact Analysis predicts that the semiconductor market will suffer a steep dip in 2023 as the supply situation normalizes.  

Rising freight rates have also significantly impacted the manufacturing sector. And the cost of shipping a 40-foot container from China to the US east coast in July 2021 increased by 5 times compared to July 2020, reaching a high of $20,000. There are multiple reasons for this, including staff shortages, saturated ports, soaring demand in certain sectors such as electronics, and delta variant outbreaks. With no end in sight to inflated freight rates, manufacturers are likely to look for solutions that are closer to home in the long run. 

The global machinery market took a damaging hit during the pandemic as factories cut back on investment, with the hardest hit sector being machine tools, which slumped by 18% in 2020. However, many machinery sectors fared better, with the market for semiconductor and electronics machinery growing by 8% in 2020. By 2025, all manufacturing sectors will have recovered to 2019 levels, and some segments, such as the metallurgy machinery market, will reach the 2019 mark this year.

One of the market insight reports

Labor Shortages A Major Barrier To Recovery For Manufacturers

The struggle to recruit into manufacturing is unexpectedly hitting some big players

According to the latest available data we have at our disposal, specific regions have been hit hard by labor shortages. The USA heads the list, with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting over 800,000 vacancies in manufacturing alone. Meanwhile, it has been reported in Germany that there are close to 150,000 job vacancies in the manufacturing sector, and 68,000 in the UK. France, on the other hand, reported a mere 5,995 vacancies. So what is going on? The answer is a perfect storm of factors, which vary for each country, but the common denominator is always the pandemic.

The temptation is to look at the USA first, where vacancies have sky-rocketed, but Germany is perhaps more interesting. Traditionally the manufacturing powerhouse of Europe, Germany is currently struggling to reboot its manufacturing sector following the COVID shock. A recent report describes Germany (population – 83 million) as a country with an ageing population, low birth rates, and in desperate need of skilled immigrant labor, much as it was at the time of the Gastarbeiter (guest worker) program in the 1960s, though then the reach-out was for cheap labor.

The pandemic had a major part to play here, slowing migration and significantly reducing the numbers of skilled immigrants entering the workforce. The coalition government has taken some measures to reform the process of recognition of foreign professional qualifications, but they have been described in some quarters as being paltry and nowhere near sufficient to satisfy demand.

Across the pond from Europe, in the US, those 800,000+ job vacancies reported in May and June 2021 constitute double the number of vacancies for a similar period going right back to 2011. This problem has been exacerbated by the high use of unemployment insurance benefits rather than job retention schemes (see here). But pandemic unemployment benefits are scheduled to stop in Q4 of 2021, so we expect many vacancies to be filled. However, as in Germany, there has been a historical shortage of skilled manufacturing labor owing to an ageing workforce. That’s because the US has historically experienced difficulties in attracting younger people into this sector. [Note: I take issue with Lloyd here. Studies I’ve seen point to several additional constraints, and states that ended the payments early have seen no great influx of new workers.]

Finally, we turn to the UK as the third major economy where job vacancies are high. The twin shocks of COVID and Brexit have taken their toll here. For either or both reasons, many EU workers have left the UK and do not intend to return, or indeed cannot return owing to new post-Brexit immigration policies. There has been a resultant serious shortage of haulage drivers – 100,000 being an oft-quoted figure, including 25,000 EU drivers – and a shortage of factory workers. The result has been a disruption of supply chains, particularly in the food and beverage sector. The CBI has reported that general stock levels are at the lowest they have been for 40 years.

Recovery Is Slow, But Global Manufacturing Industry Is Limping In The Right Direction

A perfect storm for semiconductor supply

The long running semiconductor shortage saw strains on supplies caused by booming sales in electronic devices at the height of the pandemic. Additionally, the automotive sector has been a major contributor to the shortage because, as vehicle manufacturers anticipated a slow-down in demand for new vehicles, so they put the brakes on production and reduced orders for microchips. But when the slow-down in demand didn’t happen, car companies couldn’t get chips fast enough, leaving factories full of chip-less cars.

The slowness of supply chains for semiconductor chips – it can be 7 to 8 months between order and delivery – means that this isn’t a problem which is going to go away anytime soon. Not good news for industries that have already taken a battering. The approval of COVID-19 vaccines – a cause for celebration for most of us – has further exacerbated the chip shortage because vaccine vial production caused huge demand for the same raw silicon that is used in microchips. All-in-all, it’s been a perfect storm. The current boom in demand for semiconductors means we are predicting that the market will see a downturn in late 2023 or early 2024, because the glut of orders from manufacturers will inevitably diminish as their chip inventory builds up once more.

Over the long term, one impact of this has been big conversations at government level in the USA and the EU about the need for onshoring of some semiconductor production. If it happens, this will be a long-term trend, and so will do nothing to solve immediate problems. But, for example, Intel has announced that it will invest $20bn in two new chip plants in Arizona, and TSMC is also investing $12bn in a chip production facility in the same state.

Ignition Community Conference Provides Many Ideas For Industrial Progress

Inductive Automation held its annual “gathering” last week. The Ignition Community Conference brings together customers, partners, and Inductive staff for presentations and conversations around using technology to improve industrial (and other) processes. Sales and Marketing VP Don Pearson likes to point to a couple of key words—Ignition and Community. Ignition is the base product for HMI and SCADA and IoT. Community is how Inductive Automation leaders view the customers who gather and provide thoughts and input on how to use the product and what they would like to see added.

I put gathering in quotes because the conference was once again virtual. Perhaps next year…

And, speaking of https://inductiveautomation.com/resources/podcast/manufacturing-trends-asaservice-edge-mqtt-opc-ua-moreDon Pearson, he had me as a guest on his podcast recently. I enjoyed the conversation about technology and applications.

The cool thing about a virtual conference concerns the presentations—they are all specifically made for video. This means that watching on demand after the conference still yields the same experience minus only the live chat and networking. Check out the live sessions on the website.

I recommend the main keynote for an overview of the company, its leaders, and its direction. You’ll find Arlen Nipper’s discussion of MQTT and Sparkplug informative. The discussions of the finalists and winners of application awards were well done offering insights on some of the best practices for applying this type of software. You should also pick up many ideas for uses that would never before have occurred. I like them enough that I’m summarizing all 15 below. Go online and watch the videos and check out the details.

ICC 2021 Discover Gallery

OEE, SPC, and Real-Time Dashboards for Greater Insight into Six Production Lines

Gaining real-time and historical insight in the production process on any level is the key in this project. All of this is achieved by leveraging the options that Ignition delivers. Using standards in combination with the customization resulted in a state-of-the-art project.

Before starting with the project, AT-Automation (AT) identified the need for The Compound Company. This identification resulted in a single application that can be used throughout the full company. The solution mainly consists of four key elements:

  • Real-time and historical insight into production.
  • Insight into production data to identify pain points.
  • Statistical analysis of the process parameters so deviations between setpoints and actual values are identified quickly.
  • Mobile application so production information can be accessed from remote locations.

It’s now possible for the customer to see data that is being generated by the production lines. All the production lines are easily visualized in one overview. The option to zoom in on data regarding one production line is also available to identify the smallest details. 

New SCADA and OEE for Ariens, Maker of Four Million Snow Blowers

Ariens has a state-of-the-art landscaping equipment production facility that includes industry-leading machinery and manufacturing principles, but its data-gathering process was falling behind. The company was able to offer highly granular data, but the data came at the cost of time, meaning any insight gained lagged behind. Ariens brought Corso Systems in to take the OEE data collection process from pen and paper to automated real-time results using Ignition Perspective and the Sepasoft OEE Module.

The process for the operators at Ariens was to track all produced parts and scrap by hand. Once the data was tracked, it was then collected into a digital format via manual data entry. The final step of the process was to take the data and leverage highly complex tables to service the efficiency of the work center, and the data was aggregated to determine the overall plant efficiency.

Manual data collection from the operators, while effective in the past, was dated and needed to be addressed. The errors from the manual entry easily multiplied across the various translations. Operators might make an error when transcribing a part count, analysts might input the wrong value when translating to a digital format, and there was room for additional error when driving the data calculations through unlocked open forms. This stacking of potential errors left Ariens exposed to risk that it could no longer tolerate.

The result of the project is taking a company from pen and pad to on-the-fly, real-time understanding of what is happening on the plant floor. With the ability to see high-level overviews and drill into each line, work center, and employee, management can take action to effect change for the good of the company at a much higher rate. Throughout the process, there were moments of reflection for both the Ariens and Corso teams to adjust procedures and grow as companies and individuals.

High-Performance HMI and Single User Interface for Minerals Division of Global Resources Leader

This project is a high-performance human-machine interface (HMI) which assists technicians at BHP’s Technology Remote Operations Centre (TROC) for Minerals Australia in monitoring and managing the status of critical technology infrastructure and components across the operations.

BHP has provided visibility and context of PLCs, switches, servers, applications, substations, data centers and more, using its internally developed OPC UA module for OSI PI to bring in hundreds of thousands of data points.

BHP has also integrated with many of its other enterprise platforms to provide quick, intuitive, and easy-to-digest context at a glance to enable TROC technicians.

The BHP HMI solution is a significant innovation that uniquely integrates the IT world into the OT space for the mining industry. BHP has used new technology and modern integration to combine huge volumes of real-time data and context — presenting this in an actionable form to enhance safety and productivity. BHP’s initial research found no solutions in the market that met its needs, so it chose to develop an innovative solution.

The system is providing better visibility and context to operational personnel in the field, as well as a better experience when the TROC is contacted, with the TROC technician already aware of the issue and actively resolving it. Usually, issues are being proactively resolved prior to the operations noticing any effect or impact. As the TROC HMI is accessible to all employees, others outside of TROC watch and respond to alarms, preventing issues earlier than in the past.

There is also a cultural benefit, as BHP is providing a solution that is “fit for purpose” for TROC, rather than presenting the team with multiple siloed solutions which do not provide the context required.

The HMI system results in fewer outages and IT failures. Over time, this will result in significant cost savings from disruptions that have been avoided across all of BHP’s operations in Australia — and, if replicated to other operations, potentially globally.

Smithfield Hog Production Improves Feed Mill Operations with Modern SCADA Platform

This project — automating the hog feed production plant at Smithfield Hog Production’s facility in Milford, Utah — uses Allen-Bradley CompactLogix processors accompanied with Flex and SLC I/O hardware. The computers are based on a virtual environment, having all machines running on a common server connected to thin clients. CPM Beta Raven’s MillMaster is the interface for the consumer to receive product, run recipes, track inventory, and loadout product seamlessly and accurately.

Major benefits from the project include the efficiency and response times of the software. The manufacturing business is fast-paced, safety-oriented, and dependent upon the Ignition HMI client to provide real-time data. For the Smithfield facility, it’s important to know the status of the boiler; without it the plant will not produce. This mill now has the comfort of knowing the management will be alerted on their phones in the event the boiler malfunctions. Before the CPM Beta Raven system integration project, the feed mill worked entirely on pushbuttons, relay circuit boards, and physical labor. Now the operators have the capability to focus more on ingredient/product accuracy and production times for the best results. This provides Smithfield the ability to serve more hog farms and therefore provide more protein for humans everywhere.

Improved Data Management for High-Speed Catamarans

The purpose of the project was to develop a DNV-GL approved Ship Integrated Management System (SIMS) to manage data from various inputs on the ship and present information in a consistent manner on operator workstations distributed throughout the vessel.

Australian shipbuilder Incat, based in Hobart, Tasmania, designs and builds high-speed lightweight catamarans which are supplied globally. Ships vary from fast, flexible, and efficient vehicle-passenger ferries to high-speed military support vessels, crew ships, and dynamic platforms.

Each Incat ship requires a Ship Integrated Management System (SIMS). The purpose of the SIMS is to manage data from various inputs and present data in a consistent manner on operator workstations distributed throughout a vessel.

The outcome for Incat and Cromarty was extremely positive. The project was completed within the specified time frame. The hardware and software design achieved DNV-GL Plan approval using readily available industrial-standard hardware and software. The final solution was scalable and repeatable and allowed Incat not only to deliver Vessel 091 with a DNV-GL approved Ship Integrated Management System, but also laid the foundation for the system to be adapted for future vessels — all with locally based support.

Creating a High-Capacity Lab for COVID Testing in Just Nine Months

Ginkgo Bioworks expanded its automation capabilities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for increased nationwide diagnostic testing capacity. Ginkgo designed and built a new sample-processing lab very quickly. The lab is highly automated; once a rack of samples is placed on the line by an operator, it makes its way through a series of work cells with no human intervention. Ultimately the goal of the system was to prepare COVID-19 test samples for DNA sequencing & PCR testing for the virus. At the heart of this new lab is the Ignition SCADA platform.

Sample traceability is of utmost importance. With more than 40 separate PLCs all triggering actions that impacted the samples, Ignition was critical to unifying the process data and allowing Ginkgo to extract meaningful testing results.

This automated lab went from conception to bio-validation in nine months, so it was important to have a SCADA platform that could scale quickly. Commissioning occurred seven days per week, so redundant Ignition servers allowed the facility to achieve nearly 100% SCADA uptime. Ignition’s responsibilities included connecting more than 40 work cells (each with their own PLC, lab equipment, robot, and vision inspection systems), providing real-time dashboards for production data, connecting PLCs to lab equipment with a consistent interface, and reliably storing event data for the lab.

Real-Time Data Across the Entire Enterprise for a Leading Oil & Gas Company in Latin America

Pluspetrol, one of the leading oil & gas companies in Latin America, acquired Block 10 operations in Ecuador and successfully finished migrating one of the largest SCADA systems in Ecuador to Ignition in 2019. The fact that all Ecuador operations chose Ignition as their monitoring, control, and information platform allowed the corporation to evaluate its benefits and choose it as the appropriate tool for digital transformation of the company at the corporate level.

In 2020, Pluspetrol adopted Ignition software to concentrate the information of the processes of its different assets in many countries to allow availability of information at the corporate level. With Ignition as the foundation, the corporation can now collect and distribute information in an efficient, real-time, and effortless way for different area users and third-party applications and corporate services.

Pluspetrol has allowed corporate-level access to data in real time from any of the operation centers and offices. Now sites in Peru are in the process of joining the IDEA initiative. Soon, more sites located in Argentina, Peru, and Ecuador, which already has Ignition, will be incorporated into the corporate SCADA system.

The collected and centralized data will be available to third-party systems such as ERPs, through Web Services and other available technologies.

In Ecuador, the system has allowed constant development for all areas in the plant with a faster response and taking the operation to an administrative/management level.

New opportunities have arisen for the customer’s everyday operations due to the IDEA standard. Every area in the company can access data in real time. This is the basic difference for everything. Making decisions based on past data only is now history. Having real-time information from past and current data enables the customer’s operations to be more efficient — and helps tremendously with constant improvements to operations.

Mobile Robots and Logistics Automation for Avery Dennison

More and more organizations are introducing automation into their logistics operations through the use of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). Over the past several years, Flexware Innovation has assisted customers with this effort by leveraging Ignition to integrate these vehicles into their existing ecosystems. This integration typically includes interfacing with automation/control infrastructure, inventory management systems, and other line-of-business applications. The result of this continuous development is a highly configurable, Ignition-based middleware framework named LIFT (Logistics Integration Framework Technology). 

Avery Dennison recently expanded the production and warehousing capacity of its plant in Greenfield, Indiana. The project included the implementation of a new JBT AGV system that would transfer materials autonomously throughout the facility. Avery Dennison wanted to create a comprehensive material handling solution that would seamlessly integrate the new JBT AGV system with existing facility systems and processes. Flexware utilized its Ignition-based LIFT framework to create a fully integrated logistics solution and help make Avery’s expansion a success.

Flexware developed the solution over a six-month period, and then partnered with both the Avery Dennison and JBT teams to implement the integrated solution into the production environment successfully. With limited training, the Avery Dennison team has achieved complete customer ownership of the solution. The full-featured configuration client allows Avery Dennison to reconfigure existing missions as desired, as well as add new equipment, vehicles, and missions to the system as needed. The system manages Avery Dennison’s autonomous vehicles, human-driven vehicles, production lines, a shipping area, and an expanded warehouse area. This integrated material handling solution has allowed Avery Dennison to increase logistics capacity significantly in this plant with minimal additional manpower.

Improved Data Integrity and Easier Compliance with 21 CFR Part 11

Par Pharmaceutical worked with Grantek as part of Par’s corporate data integrity initiative to improve production data quality and regulatory compliance. The project related to fluid beds, which are pieces of equipment used to reduce the moisture content of pharmaceutical powder and granules. The project was to draft corporate data integrity requirements for all control systems across Par Pharmaceutical’s industries, and then develop a new system for the fluid bed as a pilot against the new requirements.

The fluid bed dryer solution provided by Grantek is a critical piece of process equipment involved in the manufacturing of solid dose pharmaceuticals. This solution ensures each fluid bed control system utilizes five main process phases: pre-conditioning, charging, heating, spraying, and cooling — each involving a sequencing of air flow, temperature control, or spray per a pre-configured (but editable) manufacturing recipe.

Previously, one of the fluid beds was being controlled by a ControlLogix 5562 processor with an iFix SCADA HMI and custom Visual Basic interfaces and scripts. In contrast, the other Fluid Bed was controlled via a PLC-5 with a Wonderware SCADA HMI. The client also upgraded the air handler and other process equipment as part of the migration included in this project. The solution provided by Grantek utilized the Sepasoft module for recipe management within Ignition to organize and manage all recipe creation and versioning. The tight integration of Ignition with the database also allowed for robust filtering and data validation using dropdowns and search-fields objects.

As data becomes the driver behind critical business decisions, it is becoming ever more critical to ensure that data is handled correctly, following industry best practices. These projects reviewed the shortcomings of the antiquated fluid bed dryers to identify risk areas that could lead to errors in electronic records, or compromise data integrity. This solution removed the barriers to documentation and sped up data retrieval. Several of the priority concerns addressed by this project are adding robust role-based access controls, modernizing the audit trail to improve mean time to resolution, and implementing electronic signatures to approve critical operating changes or events.

These projects further facilitate the collection of trusted data while increasing the availability of actionable data to allow users to improve operations. While the interface was updated for these features, the PLC operations were identical aside from several additions to accommodate new HMI features. This allows for the transition to compliance while maintaining familiarity for operators working with the system.

In terms of data integrity improvement, data reporting capability, change tracking capability, and data retention, the project was a very strong success.

The highlight of this project and its value is using Ignition as a centralized data repository and 21 CFR Part 11/data integrity compliance tool. Par is now working on centralizing many machines’ controls into Ignition.

Modern SCADA, MQTT, and the Cloud Bring Intelligent Buildings for SNCF, the French National Railway Company

This project is about digital transformation for railway stations across France. The challenge was to collect and interact with greenfield and brownfield facilities in a highly distributed BMS-like environment.

Three years ago, the western management of the SNCF’s Gares et Connexions entity began thinking about updating its command and control systems for onsite and remote operators, as well as subcontractors for the various operating and maintenance contracts.

With the Ignition and MQTT Sparkplug platform, HTTProject was able to implement a flexible solution that meets all requirements.

Ignition Perspective has made it possible to create applications that can be adapted to all terminals (responsive design); these are not simple dashboards, but real industrial supervision applications in the palm of your hand!

More than 250 users can view and control the installations from anywhere on their mobile devices or from any computer on the network. With alarm notification, external users are alerted in real time of any deviations and use their remote access to correct anomalies.

Perhaps most importantly, with Ignition, MQTT, and Sparkplug B, the choice of technology and site integrator is free. The definition of assets is done at the edge level, so the unique name space is used by all applications from the moment of publication on the MQTT infrastructure.

Equipment control is less than a second at all points on the network. The reliability, flexibility, and performance of the solution is such that other projects using more conventional techniques will use the data produced by Ignition. And this is just the beginning. Ignition can expand almost indefinitely with its unlimited license and the scalability of MQTT Sparkplug B.

Advanced Monitoring and Control for a Data Center Leader in Italy

This project provided Aruba with an advanced real-time monitoring and control system for its revamped IT2 Arezzo Data Center. This was Aruba’s first data center, put into operation more than 15 years ago, covering approximately 2,000 square meters.

After the positive experience with a previous MTech project, Aruba wanted to give a new shape to this old but still strategic data center, with particular attention to the use of modern technologies, building a flexible control system to control all its subsystems.

Once again, Ignition has demonstrated its power and flexibility, as well as an incredible ability to bring real innovation into the hands of customers. The ability to manage truly complex systems from the palm of your hand is certainly the real next step in automation and control of systems.

Cloud-Hosted SCADA with MQTT Gives Water Agency Faster Access to Data

Waterford Township Department of Public Works (DPW) in Oakland County, Michigan, manages 715 miles of water and wastewater sewer, including 19 production wells, three storage tanks, 11 treatment plants, and 63 sewer lift stations. In 2015, Perceptive Controls undertook a project to upgrade the department’s core SCADA infrastructure, which monitored RTUs over licensed RF using a poll/response protocol. Now, the department’s system runs on a cloud-hosted Ignition MQTT infrastructure, which has improved the speed, scalability, accuracy, and fault-tolerance of the system with lots of potential for future integration.

This design is unconventional for the industry, but it avoids the kinds of problems with local utilities that have made the news lately and is more resilient than it used to be. In fact, Waterford DPW recently experienced a loss of internet connectivity in their office building, and of course, the system was totally unaffected.

With MQTT, the system is also much more responsive and stable. The DPW system has gone from multi-minute cycles to sub-second latency and a significant reduction in actual data transmission because of report-by-exception. This allows the DPW to send out more data than before and never miss a system action or an alarm notification, which enables operators to accurately diagnose issues in the field.

The new HMI screens complement the level of data integrity with a friendlier user interface. Critical factors like wet well level and pump runtime in each lift station are highlighted so an operator can spot problematic behaviors early on.

The DPW also has lots of communication diagnostic information, which simply wasn’t possible before. Scalability is no longer a concern, and the DPW is looking forward to future projects built on this foundation. In the future, the DPW sees huge potential for integrating with local and regional systems to build predictive systems that help avert disaster and operate more efficiently.

Support costs went down by around $10,000 from what they were when paying for iFIX, and the DPW saved a lot of money in travel time because Perceptive can do all the programming through a secure remote connection. Tag counts and related metrics will increase by the time the project is completed in late 2021.

AWS, MQTT, Edge, and Perspective for Easy Government Compliance and Better Operations

With this new system, Roeslein Alternative Energy (RAE) can collect data from numerous locations and see all the data in one place. It’s now much easier to do compliance reporting, and data is also used to improve operations in several ways.

RAE and another company are both using the solution provided for reporting compliance data. This has streamlined the process and ensures a single source of truth for reporting the data. Furthermore, RAE uses the operations platform daily for various reasons and it continues to grow and develop new features. This type of system has been proposed to potential customers and has received quite a bit of interest.

Modern SCADA Improves Operations Across Three Water Districts

Ignition Perspective proved to be a big improvement over the previous SCADA system for the Warren, Simpson, and Butler County Water districts. The new system has much more flexibility and scalability, allowing it to keep up with the districts’ needs as they continue to expand. The project was implemented across 131 separate stations.

Vertech was brought into this project to provide a world-class automation solution for the three water districts. 

The new system created a viable way for the districts to view and control any level of equipment from a singular interface while introducing data insights on network reliability and system performance down to a granular level. This allowed improvement to truly originate from the bottom up as operators became more acquainted with the nuances of the system and used it to convey data insights through dynamic reports and annotated charting. Vertech also benefited greatly in this process by refining and improving its offering of web-based water SCADA systems and leveraging the operational experience and procedural skills of the three water districts.

Edge Computing and MQTT Help Uncrewed Vessels Gather Data from Oceans

XOCEAN is an Irish company with offices in the UK and Canada that has designed and developed a fleet of uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) to provide data collection services to surveyors, companies, and agencies globally.

XOCEAN’s CyberDeck 2.0 system uses Ignition as its controls platform to create a web-based command and control interface for its fleet of USVs. The system allows XOCEAN to perform over-the-horizon operations with USVs in any marine location, and work with remote pilots in any location with internet access.

Ignition was chosen as the XOCEAN controls interface because it provides fully developed modules to create a robust, secure, and scalable solution. With Ignition, XOCEAN has developed Edge and central Ignition Gateway projects in less than six months, allowing a very swift migration of the entire USV fleet from the pre-existing Rockwell solution.

XOCEAN now has a scalable, secure, and flexible controls platform which puts the company on sound footing as it grows its fleet and enhances its product offering.

Additive Manufacturing Software For Metal Replacement Parts

Continuing coverage of additive manufacturing from last week’s Rapid + TCT show in Chicago, here is news from Roboze, a company specializing in extreme end-use metal replacement parts. The original additive process used polymer materials. Metals have been hard to process and maintain tolerance. Technology has advanced.

Roboze has launched Prometheus, a robust slicing software that increases the productivity of its customers. The software, developed by Roboze’s software engineering team, was unveiled today at this year’s Rapid + TCT event.

The development of the Prometheus software empowers Roboze customers with a complete, simple, and intuitive 3D printing software solution for end-to-end workflow management, from the first stages of design through final production of the printed part. Prometheus was designed with a user-friendly interface and cutting-edge features to increase digital production and parts performance from Roboze 3D Printers. The technology behind Prometheus was developed to specifically consider the robust performance capabilities of the machines and the intrinsic characteristics of Roboze’s specially developed, high-performance super polymers and composite printing materials. The software allows users to easily and quickly create a stable, secure 3D printing code in just a few clicks, and it works across the most popular browsers in the world, including Chrome and Edge.